Since the election of President Barack Obama in November of last year, there has been a marked increase in the promotion of “insurrectionism” in right wing circles in the United States. The insurrectionist idea holds that the Second Amendment gives individuals the “right,” in the words of National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre, “to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.” The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has argued that not only does insurrectionism degrade the democratic values and institutions that protect the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans; it also poses a direct threat to the very existence of our constitutional democracy.
Two recent examples provide disturbing evidence of this threat, and demonstrate that many individuals on the fringes of American politics—inspired by gun lobby rhetoric and FOX News commentators—feel that our democratically elected government has already lapsed into “tyranny.”
On two separate occasions in June, Hal Turner, a New Jersey resident and white supremacist blogger/radio host, was arrested for making threats against public officials. Turner first drew the attention of law enforcement by calling for the deaths of two Connecticut state legislators on his blog because they sponsored a bill that would have transferred financial power in Roman Catholic parishes from priests and bishops to lay members. “While filing a lawsuit is quaint and the ‘decent’ way to handle things,” he wrote, “we at TRN (Turner Radio Network) believe that being decent to a group of tyrannical scumbags is the wrong approach. It’s too soft. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers gave us the tools necessary to resolve tyranny: The Second Amendment. TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force … If any state attorney, police department or court thinks they’re going to get uppity with us about this, I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down, too.” Turner was soon arrested on charges of inciting injury.
Then, a few weeks after making bail on this charge, he shifted his attention outside of the tri-state area by asking his audience to kill three Republican-appointed jurists on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In response to a June 2 decision which upheld handgun restrictions in Chicago pending a review by the Supreme Court, Turner explicitly called for the murder of deciding judges Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer. Turner wrote on his blog, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: these judges deserve to be killed,” and included photographs, phone numbers, work addresses, and room numbers of the judges, as well as a map of Chicago’s federal courthouse which pointed out its “anti-truck bomb” pylons. A search of his home by the FBI after his arrest revealed that he was in possession of three handguns, one shotgun, and 200 rounds of ammunition (including 150 hollow point bullets). Turner is currently in jail awaiting arraignment in Chicago.
Then there is Katherine Crabill, a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the state’s 99th District. She recently made headlines by calling on Americans to resist the course President Obama has set for the country. Appearing at a “Tea Party” rally on July 15, Crabill quoted a 1775 speech by Patrick Henry and then went further, stating, “We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box. But that’s the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny.” This thought is reinforced on Crabill’s campaign website, where she states the Second Amendment “was clearly intended for self defense as well as, and more specifically, to keep the government on notice of an armed citizenry.”
When the video of her remarks made the rounds across the Internet, Crabill told the Washington Post that she would not back down from her defense of the right to use bullets to address government grievances, citing the “domestic terrorism” and “Marxist agenda” of the Obama administration as legitimate threats. She later clarified this statement, stating, “I have no desire to see this country erupt in any kind of violent revolution. I don’t even own a gun.” She now claims her speech was “less a call to arms than a call for conservatives to mobilize for coming elections at all levels.”
This was not Crabill’s first public expression of support for insurrectionism, however. In the mid 1990’s, a time when right-wing extremism was similarly on the rise, she belonged to a militia group known as the New Mexico Citizens Action Association. An April 1995 article by the Washington Times quotes her as saying that the Oklahoma City bombing, in which Timothy McVeigh killed 168 innocent people, “was the work of our government, which will use it as an excuse to aggressively attack the growing militia movement across the country.”
Turner and Crabill are just the latest insurrectionists to make national headlines. From Wichita to Pittsburgh to Oklahoma City and beyond, 2009 has already been marred by real insurrectionist violence and other attacks that were narrowly averted. And with sales of handguns and assault weapons soaring amidst (unsubstantiated) fears of tougher gun laws under President Obama, those who view our current democracy as a “tyranny” are now better armed than ever.